Last winter, history was made in Canada when, after years of lobbying, the Supreme Court struck down three major aspects of sex work laws in Canada, making them void. This was a unique occurrence, where the Supreme Court gave legislators one year to come up with new legislation. This opportunity for change meant that Canada could lead the way with sex work reform, crafting a new model that could make the lives of sex workers less marginalized and overall safer.
While some applauded the strike down, groups like STELLA based in Montreal, and Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, acted as an intervener on the case. Others like the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), took a firm stance against the ruling, stating that such a ruling failed to protect Indigenous women who are already marginalized by society.
Now, the Conservative government has tabled a bill that would target – in Minister Peter MacKay’s words – “pimps and johns” in an effort to criminalize the purchasing of sex work. However this has received criticism from groups that say this will actually make it harder for sex work to be practiced safely.
The name itself is unsavoury – “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act”– a bill that itself seems concentrated on taking the agency away from sex workers, by deeming them “exploited persons.” Even after tabling the bill, MacKay referred to sex work as a “degrading activity,” that will “always have inherent danger.”
Under the proposed bill, the buying of sexual services, as well as the profiting from others, will be deemed illegal. Additionally, it will also be illegal for services to be advertised in areas where children could be present, something that those who oppose the bill say would force those involved with sex work into less populated and more dangerous areas.
Another part of the act makes it illegal for print or online advertising of services, something that Christine Wilson points out in a Globe and Mail editorial, makes it so sex workers cannot work from home or bawdy houses, areas that can be made secure and vetted beforehand and thus making it more unsafe for sex workers.
Across the board the feedback from the proposed bill appears to be negative. Sex workers and organizations that work to fight for their rights have come out against the bill. The consensus is the bill, while not totally criminalizing sex work, would make it hard for sex workers to work in a safe, secure environment.
By pushing Bill C-36 forward, the Conservative government is ignoring the chance to actually positively reform the laws regarding sex work in Canada, and instead pushes forward a bill that actually endangers the lives of sex workers. MacKay, and other members of the government, should actually take the advice of the workers they are supposedly seeking to protect, and formulate laws in consultation with groups like STELLA, or Maggie’s in Toronto, to form new legislation that would actually be beneficial for sex workers across Canada.